You may remember Avi Zikry, Jesse Friedman and Alex Ushyarov for their inclusion in the recent Under30CEO Awards. As founders of New York Construction Company, one of the leading home improvement companies in New York City, the trio earned a spot in this distinguished list of young entrepreneurs for launching their company during the bowels of the recession in 2008, and building it up to an $8,000,000 success story by 2011. That year, they decided to expand their operations to an online platform with Click and Improve.
Click and Improve offers customers the unique online experience of being able to access pre-screened contractors to perform specific home improvement tasks at a fixed price. Customers then have the safety of knowing that the contractors don’t get paid until 7 days after the job is completed, subject to their satisfaction with the work. It eliminates the hassle of comparing widely divergent project bids and provides a measure of security not found when shopping around for service providers independently.
This team of Queens, NY natives is no stranger to innovation. A large part of the success of New York Construction Company has been the combination of offering financing in addition to quality contracting work. With a background of working together in a mortgage/construction company, Jesse, Avi and Alex understood the advantages of providing multiple levels of assistance to their customers.
Interestingly, the economic downturn of 2008 proved to be an advantage to the burgeoning business, as people were more likely to be spending smaller amounts of money to improve their existing properties than buying new homes. It was a curiously quixotic move, starting a new company in the midst of a recession, but it turned out to be a great choice. In particular, their policy of holding funds for final payment until the job has been completed has offered a level of security emulating that of AMEX. It would seem that the innovations brought to bear in Click and Improve have been quite timely, indeed.
Both of the team’s companies have been entirely self-funded. They formed New York Construction Company with their combined savings, and were able to reinvest profits from that venture into the subsequent creation of Click and Improve. Currently operating only in the NY Metro area, this year is designated for C & I’s national expansion, starting with the city of Boston.
I asked the guys what their biggest challenges have been, to date. While learning as they went along was an OK way to go with a brick and mortar company, they were not quite prepared for the distinct challenges of creating an online business. Admittedly, the learning curve on the second business could have been made a lot less costly if they had proceeded with a business plan. Instead, they grew overconfident from their earlier success and thought they could just make it happen. With no technical expertise to build an online platform, they had to bring in tech partners, making the learn as you go method much more expensive the second time around.
Although bumpy, the road to success for these partners has been clear. Even having to relinquish a measure of control to programmers in the online space, they wouldn’t trade their autonomy as business owners for a moment. They work hard and reap the benefits of all of their decisions, the profit and satisfaction from the good ones as well as the lessons from the bad.
When we met at the end of last year, plans were underway to combine both companies (over 100 employees in total) into one new office space in Whitestone, Queens. This will give Avi, Jesse and Alex the opportunity to maximize their face time with one another as opposed to splitting their energies between two locations in College Point and Long Island City, another challenge they’ve been managing during this early growth period.
They already work as a complete team, fluidly collaborating on all creative matters, business strategy and execution. It’s clear even from our short meeting how well they function together, completing each other’s thoughts as an expression of the shared monobrain their combined friendship and business experience has obviously given them. The energy in the office where we met was upbeat, and they have a steady stream of contractors applying to be on their roster.
Their prime advice to new entrepreneurs? First and foremost – you’d better absolutely love and believe in your business, because you will need that passion to get you through the inevitable down moments. Secondly – marketing. “You can be the best of the best, but marketing is crucial. You need a different angle to draw interest from clients, and of course back it up with a good product.”
But don’t ask me which of them said that, because I can’t remember…
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative & innovative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is preparing to launch Project Mavens, a content branding firm. On Twitter @projectmaven.